June 2022 has been significant and busy in so many ways. I set up my exhibition "The im/material monument" in the Naughton Gallery at Queen's University, I passed my viva and had not one but two openings, followed by a presentation for an international colloquium on the future of counter-monuments organised by Leeds University. I think I am ready for a break, or at least a pause! The work shown above is a triptych called Elegies for the Dead of the Troubles. It was one of the most sombre pieces in the exhibition and it represents my re-imagining of traditional commemorative art. The language used is not of duty or sacrifice but of air, bubbles and hope; of movement and of breathing. As I acknowledge the personal sense of achievement I feel at the end of this month, and indeed of the whole PhD period, I also acknowledge that we are never out of Trouble and that for many people around the world, and for different reasons, hope drifts away. I hope that like the tide, it will come back.
Time can be thought of as a series of measured pauses that punctuate our waking hours. But these pauses are not always the same. For some people, time runs too fast and for others, it is always too slow. We wish we had more time to do our own thing, or to spend with someone we love or even to go back in time so that the future could be changed. If we think of time only as linear, numerical and regulated then these concepts remain in the realm of speculation and we are not reading time, or experiencing it, in the ways that we need to. How can we be fully in the present if we are pulled back to the past by the narrative of a history we do not subscribe to? How can we share a future if we can't move beyond the present because those with the power to change time cannot move beyond blame? Are we all too quick to blame and too slow to forgive, even ourselves? In the piece above, I went back in time to November 2021, when I reimagined time by drawing out an alternative clock-face. It was a way to think about time differently and to consider the temporal gaps between holding on and letting go. Now, the time seemed right to finish the work so here it is!
Time: A structure of nothingness. Mixed media. 45 x 45 x 5 cm. Photography: Simon Mills.
What can be said about March - aptly named after the Roman God of War. It feels like the world, or parts of it at least, have gone mad and all we can do is watch from afar as another despot bestrides his part of the world fuelled by the delusions of grandeur. Meanwhile, people die and people mourn. I have been continuing my experiments reflecting on the shape of mourning and how it can be materialised to reflect its changing and uncertain nature. The bio-plastic petals I made in January were melted down and reformed into pebbles, each with their own unique markings. No two are the same and yet they share certain characteristics. They are hard, yet not fixed; set but vulnerble to the whims of their maker. I envisage these pebbles as a floor piece; a scattering of shapes. Some gather in numbers, some become separated and pushed to the side.; they may even be stepped on or over. How we shape our mourning is how we respond to the individual within the whole. The victims of war are not a homogeneous mass but a collection of myriad individual potentialities. This is what is lost. This is what we mourn.
This time last year I posted a photograph of the shore and reflected on how the year before I had been in Paris. Two years on, the world is still in a strange and increasingly dangerous situation. Monuments such as the Giant's Ring, shown here, are one of my touchstones in troubled times. They give a sense of continuity and timelessness when all around us is subject to change and uncertainty and the whims of mad men. For some reason, when I was here a few mornings ago, I thought of Joyce's The Dead, the last story in The Dubliners. It describes snow falling softly over Ireland, drifting over graveyards and hedgerows and " falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead" and I hoped that in other country, far from Ireland, enough snow would fall so that tanks were halted and planes couldn't fly.
January is a long and dark month but it can also be the start of something new. This can be as simple as trying out a new material and being excited by the possiblities that arise from play and experimentation. Shown here are examples of my first forays into using bio-plastic. Previous attempts at making my own from potato starch were marked as a resounding fail. The bought variety comes in bags similar to a bag of lentils. They have an alchemical quality . When dropped into hot water these grains coalesce, become translucent and maleable. They can be rolled, stretched and pulled in any direction before they harden into shape. If this shape is not desirable, they can be dropped back into water and re-formed. The image above shows bio-plastic petals, made with a mix of black and white grains. They look like agate or mussel shells. I am using them to make a floral wreath as part of a reflection on the shape of mourning. It struck me that the stages involved in the making of these petals are not unlike the stages of grief. Before loss we are one thing. After it we are another. We change; we are stretched and fragile and we show the marks of our experience on the surface. We become hard but we can become vulnerable and receptive again in the right circumstance. We are singular but we are not alone. How would you describe the shape of mourning?
December is a turning point. The shortest day and the longest night pivot and slowly we can look forward to more light. I think we need this after the darkness of past year. As I continue to reflect on time it struck me how, in the past two years , time has endlessly repeated itself and yet paradoxically become stuck. There is no sense of coming to the end of a particular period of time, so that we can move on - but what are we moving on to? As I write this on New Year's Eve 2021, I wonder what 2022 will bring. We cannot control time but we can make time for ourselves, even momentarily, to step outside of the circle of events, the O for Omicron and the micro challenges of each groundhog day. In this space, we can make room for hope and see the light breaking through the cracks in the wall or the tips of green shoots pushing through the snow. The winter solstice has passed and we are gently tilting back towards the sun.
Last November I reflected on time and what strange times we were living through. This November, there seems to be no end to these difficult times and so I wondered, if we measured time differently, not in numbers but through our emotions, could another temporal reality be found? When is it time to move on, to let go and forgive? How much of our time is taken up with blame and holding on to the past? I have been experimenting with reconfiguring clock faces in the studio so that six o'clock could be undestood as pastpresent and nine o'clock as nowthen. In times of trauma, seconds can last for hours and each movement of the hands brings another wound. How do we know when the time is right to heal? Is the right time for me the wrong time for you and should we even worry about being in sync, or instead focus on allowing multiplicities of time so that we can all inhabit our individual temporal reality. Even in difficult times, the time we have is precious.
Tonight is Hallowe'en. The clocks have already gone back and other strange things - if you believe in them - are afoot. Temporal and spatial ambiguities were described by Foucault in his 1967 essay 'Of other places' and it was here that he used the terms heterotopias (places) and heterochronias (times) to discuss the liminality of a dizzying range of objects, locations and events from mirrors to museums, from fairgrounds to brothels and from retirement homes to prisons. According to Foucault, all societies had heterotopias; places that existed but were hidden, forgotten or ignored despite their reality. In these places, time was made strange. We all know the spookiness of cemeteries and mausoleums, especially at this time of the year but I wondered if Foucault's ideas could be applied to the monument or memorial. Shown above is a response to this in the form of a digital collage. A field of stubbled wheat is out of focus and something has appeared in the sky to disrupt the pattern of the clouds. Its surface shimmers and reflects a landscape which we cannot see. Foucault's ideal hereotopia was a ship because it is a space that that is self contained and yet floats on another infinite space, the sea. For me, thinking memorially, it is something that is unmoored, adrift, reflective and disruptive. Something that mirrors a multiplicity of pasts as it floats into unknown futures. We do not have to stand before it in sombre thought. It finds us when we need it. Happy Hallowe'en!
Monuments and memorials are found throughout Ireland and their meaning is normally easily discerned through the design of the memorial, its inscriptions and its documented history in the archive or local library. The figures shown here are mysterious and ancient so their history is less easily read. Known as the Boa Island figures, they are presumed to date from the late Iron Age or early Christian period and they are located in a rural graveyard in Caldragh in County Fermanagh. I first saw them thirty years ago and revisited them for a second time last week. The images above show the larger of the two figures, from each side, the smaller figure being too eroded to be legible. What is interesting is that the figure is bilateral, and is described as Janus faced, despite the fact that there is no connection to the Roman god of the same name. Some say the figure shows Badhbh, an ancient Irish goddess of war. Others say the figure is male on one side and female on the other. On the broken plinth beside the figure is a collection of coins of different dominations, from Ireland and beyond. These have been left as offerings of some sort but who left them and what they asked of the stone deity is as unknown as the origins of the figures themselves. Do we have to know the biography of a monument to enjoy its existance, or can we simply be glad it is still there? Are we obliged to leave something behind - money, a hope, a memory - or can we just reaquaint ourselves with the past and move on leaving nothing behind?
I am still thinking about airborn memorials and ambiguity. This weekend, I spent time walking along the cliffs from Ballyhornan to Ardglass, following the narrow rocky trail along the coastline. Somewhere, far out on the rocks, I spotted this broken obelisk, the remains of an unknown memorial. I wondered what it marked and who it was for. Behind me was the former Bishop's Court RAF radar station built in 1943 and ahead of me was the Irish Sea and the notorious narrows of Strangford Lough where many boats had sank or foundered on the rocks. There was no signage or indication of what the obelisk commemorated and further down the rock face, I could see the rest of the column which was also without markings. Was it for pilots or fishermen, or for someone who had drowned? Did knowing the details add to or detract from its melancholy ? For me, not knowing allows thoughts and memories to remain open, making the memorial part of my present and not someone else's past. I remember what I do not know, and think of those I never met. Those in peril on the sea, as the song goes. In the studio I veil my model airship, put it in the garb of mourning and wonder if memorials grieve.
This is where you will find news about exhibitions, projects, events, other artists, travels, experimental work and sometimes things that I just enjoyed seeing! I hope you enjoy them too!